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Traveling Gourmet offers personal chef service to Ann Arbor-area homes

Being a professional restaurant chef for more than 10 years has given Kelly Johnson a broad range of cooking experience. Working in the Traverse City area, she has learned how to prepare such cuisine styles as healthy, organic, comfort food, Asian, Latin, Italian and more. Now, she's bringing that smorgasbord of talents into the homes of area residents with Traveling Gourmet Personal Chef Service
 
"The personal chef business has been around for about 20 years," says Johnson. "The chefs go into people's homes and they cook for them, whatever they'd like, depending on diet or type of meals they need."
 
Johnson moved to Ypsilanti in January to be closer to family, and felt the timing was right to launch her own business. Traveling Gourmet Personal Chef offers weekly or bi-weekly cooking inside the clients' homes. She'll also offer catering services, but only to her personal chef clients.
 
Traveling Gourmet has been open for about a month. Johnson says she would eventually like to expand more into catering with a staff and a commercial kitchen. 
 
"So far so good," Johnson says of the newly-launched business. "I've had a several inquiries, and have a couple of clients already, but I'm still looking for more."
 

Source: Kelly Johnson, Traveling Gourmet
Writer: Natalie Burg

RJ's Coney Island brings new twist on old favorite to State St.

Anyone who walked into Mr. Greek's Coney Island over the past six months likely noticed some changes. Starting in November, the S. State St. restaurant began a gradual transformation that culminated in a grand opening and unveiling of its new identity as RJ's Coney Island.
 
"I've had people walk in and say, 'Where are we?' They were always pleasantly surprised," says new owner Ron Rzeppa. "It was just an ongoing thing, and we decided to unveil it to everyone on Art Fair weekend." 
 
The 2,000 square-foot restaurant received a makeover both to its look and its menu. The new restaurant features breakfast and lunch as well as desserts. In addition to renovating the interior, Rzeppa added sidewalk seating.
 
After working in the restaurant industry for some time, when Mr. Greek's came up for sale, Rzeppa decided it was time to go into business for himself. The family-owned business is run by a staff of 14 and pays homage to Rzeppa's late father, Ron Rzeppa Sr., who is featured on the RJ's Coney Island logo. 
 
"It's a way to share him with everyone," says Rzeppa. 
 
As RJ's becomes established, Rzeppa hopes to expand the restaurant's hours and add daily specials to the menu.


Source: Ron Rzeppa, RJ's Coney Island
Writer: Natalie Burg

Tamaki restaurant to serve quick, custom-made sushi in Ann Arbor

When something starts going well, it just makes good sense to roll with it. After opening his first Tamaki restaurant in Lansing's Frandor Shopping Center last year, restaurateur Frank Cheng witnessed a dramatic response to his unique take on fast, fresh, custom-made sushi and decided it was time to grow. In addition to plans to open an East Lansing location, a new Tamaki is slated to join the mix in downtown Ann Arbor this fall. 
 
"We were looking around and Ann Arbor fits the demographic," says Cheng. "We came here and drove by, and there was a space open for us. It was just what we were looking for." 
 
The 1,800 square-foot Liberty St. location will feature the same mix of rice bowls, noodles and custom-made sushi that has made Tamaki a success in Lansing. According to Cheng, the convenience of affordable, quick sushi made to order is a new offering ideal for its location. 
 
"Its proximity to campus, as well as Google and Barracuda Networks is really good," Cheng says. "We think they will love it. We're assembly-line Asian food. You don't see that elsewhere. You get to choose what you want at an affordable price."
 
Cheng hopes to start renovations on the space in August and open the new Tamaki in October. The restaurant will employ about10 workers and seat 40 to 50 diners. 

Source: Frank Cheng, Tamaki
Writer: Natalie Burg

EMU Science Complex addition cuts energy use by 23%

Simple math might suggest that adding 80,000 square feet to a 180,000 square-foot building would increase the facility's energy consumption by somewhere around 45 percent. Thanks to some pretty fancy engineering and technology, however, that wasn't the case when Eastern Michigan University renovated and expanded its Science Complex last year. 
 
In fact, the bigger facility is now using no more energy than it did before its expansion. In fact, in its first year of data, it appears to be using 23 percent less energy.
 
"The initial goal was to design and construct a building that used as little energy as possible given our cost constraints and other goals on the project," says EMU Energy and Sustainability Manager Steven Moore II. "Once the design progressed, we realized that there was the potential to keep the energy use the same, even after adding approximately 50 percent of the square footage to the building. Once that became a possibility, we really strove to make it happen."
 
The development was recently awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and earned an honorable mention in the Construction and Design Award category from the Engineering Society of Detroit at its meeting in June. While these achievements are great in and of themselves, Moore says the real winners are the students.
 
"Eastern Michigan University has spent nearly $1,000,000 on utilities some years at Mark Jefferson, so every bit of energy savings equates to significant dollar savings," says Moore. "This monetary savings can then be passed on to the students through tuition restraint."

Source: Steven Moore, Eastern Michigan University
Writer: Natalie Burg
 

Hola restaurant to introduce halal Mexican to Plymouth Rd.

It's not often that a genuinely new genre of food finds its way into the diverse Ann Arbor restaurant scene, but restaurateur Ali Hijazi believes his new venture, Hola, will be serving the city's first halal Mexican food.
 
Though the concept is new, Hijazi is confident Hola will be a great fit – and he knows a thing or two about both restaurants and the neighborhood. 
 
"I live in this neighborhood," says Hijazi, who has been in the restaurant business for two decades. "I know what additions will make the community here happy to see."
 
Hola is expected to open in August in a 2,200 square-foot location on Plymouth Rd. between the Songbird Café and Curry Up restaurants. The former office space has been under renovation for some time.
 
Hijazi is working with a Mexican business partner who will specialize in the food end of the business. As Hola becomes established, the partners plan to expand into breakfast and late night food, as well as expand their staff, which will begin with the partners and family help. 
 
"We'll let the food and the service talk about itself," Hijazi says. "We're trying to make it a very nice addition to the north campus area."

Source: Ali Hijazi, Hola
Writer: Natalie Burg

Balance Massage Therapy doubles footprint in Dixboro

Had founder and managing partner of Balance Massage Therapy Josie Ann Lee and her co-owner and head therapist Chris Draybuck not needed to comply with a five-mile non-compete clause with a former employer of Draybuck's, they might never have considered Dixboro as a home for their business. As it turns out, Lee says, it was the best decision they ever made. 
 
"It's been the biggest blessing," says Lee. "I'm so happy we ended up in Dixboro. People don't mind driving out here, and it's so peaceful."
 
Since opening in 2008 with a minimal staff, Balance Massage Therapy has done nothing but grow. To accommodate their staff of 20 therapists, six office employees and the 14,000 massages they're on course to complete this year, Lee and Draybuck recently completed an expansion of their Plymouth Rd. location. The expansion grew their 1,200 square-foot office into a 3,200 square-foot space with 11 massage rooms. All of which, Lee says, will help Balance Massage stick to their mission of great service to both their clients and employees.
 
"Our focus is always on our clients, and the most important clients are our team," says Lee. "They have enjoyed working there to have a good impact on the business. We want to make sure it's a mutually beneficial relationship for them, and for the community."
 
Work on the expansion began in 2012 and was unveiled in February. Lee immediately hired three new front desk employees afterward. After adding two to three new massage therapists last fall, she anticipates adding another two therapists this coming fall. 
 
Lee says Balance Massage's next focus is extending their investment in the community, including more charitable giving. 

Source: Josie Ann Lee, Balance Massage Therapy
Writer: Natalie Burg

Comprehensive streetscape planning set for downtown Ann Arbor

There's no doubt that downtown Ann Arbor feels uniquely like downtown Ann Arbor. On the other hand, points out Amber Miller, a planning & research specialist for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, standing on a sidewalk on Huron St. near Main feels very different than walking down State St. near campus. In order to create a unified experience throughout downtown that is appropriate to each diverse area, the Ann Arbor DDA is launching a study to create a comprehensive plan.
 
"The city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor DDA work to ensure that public and private investments help foster a great sidewalk experience that is reflective of the personality of our downtown," says Miller. "A Streetscape Framework Plan is a technical document to help us in pursuit of this goal."
 
"Streetscape" elements include all of the things that add to the look and feel of public spaces in downtown (sort of like landscaping, but with less focus on plants – get it?). This includes lighting, signage, street furniture, sidewalk cafes, storm water management and more. Because private developers, business owners, and public entities are constantly developing and redeveloping downtown spaces, the plan will act as a guideline for all to follow.
 
The Streetscape Framework Plan development is intended to be as collaborative as its eventual use.
 
"A collaborative approach will allow us to come together to create guidelines that help us prioritize the quality-of-place needs of the sidewalk, while also meeting commercial, technical and environmental needs," Miller says.  "In a nutshell, we can foster a wonderful pedestrian experience, even as we are meeting city technical needs, improving community sustainability efforts, and helping downtown to thrive."
 
DDA staff and interns will begin documenting existing street conditions and types in the next few weeks. Miller anticipates a project consultant will be hired in late fall or early next year. The collaborative process will begin in March of 2014, with completion of the study expected by early 2015.

Source: Amber Miller, Ann Arbor DDA
Writer: Natalie Burg

Clarity Quest grows into new Stadium Blvd. location

Growth is nothing new for Ann Arbor's Clarity Quest Marketing, which has been adding staff, increasing revenues, and adding new locations at a regular clip. Now, all of that growth has led the business to expand into a new, 800 square-foot location on Stadium Blvd. 
 
"We were getting a little cramped," says Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing. "We moved for the purposes of having more conference room space, and free parking for our clients."
 
In its downtown Ann Arbor location, Clarity Quest shared meeting space with a neighboring business. Now with its own dedicated conference room, Slocumb says the company can focus more on training, as well as other areas of the business that require more space. 
 
"We have a lot more room for creative sessions and brainstorming with clients," says Slocumb. "We've been getting a lot of requests for strategic work, so that really demands a lot of brainstorming." 
 
Clarity Quest moved into its new location on July 1. Slocumb anticipates the business to continue to grow, adding up to two additional full-time staff over the next year, as well as two more interns in the near future. 
 

Source: Christine Slocumb, Clarity Quest
Writer: Natalie Burg

Kids Fashion Jungle triples in size at new Dexter location

Just a year after opening in a small location in Manchester, the children's resale and retail shop, Kids Fashion Jungle, is preparing to open in a new, larger location in Dexter. 
 
"Now we can breathe," says owner Tamara Douglas. "We had a lot of stuff stored in the back and had stuff stacked up to the ceiling. We just didn't have enough space." 
 
Kids Fashion Jungle will nearly triple their space in the new location, going from just over 800 square feet to 2,400. With the additional room, Douglas plans to carry bigger merchandise, as well as add a kids' entertainment element to the jungle-themed store. A craft room will be created where children can get creative. 
 
"Kids can come in and do a fun, creative gift for under 10 dollars," says Douglas. "We're just trying to make it a fun place for kids in different ways." 
 
The new store is scheduled to open July 20. In addition to the new craft room, Douglas hopes to offer crafting parties for kids' birthdays and other occasions in her expanded space. 
 
While Kids Fashion Jungle is currently operated by Douglas with some help from her family. She hopes the new space will allow her to grow enough to hire staff, as well as give back to the community. A key element to her business, she says, is supporting local charities that benefit children. 
 

Source: Tamara Douglas, Kids Fashion Jungle
Writer: Natalie Burg

$5M investment to gear up American Broach for 100 new jobs

American Broach & Machine President Ken Nemec doesn't believe anything happens without big goals and dreams. That's why his cutting tool and broaching machine business has a vision for growth. American Broach's new, 42,880 square-foot Ypsilanti facility is a part of that vision, and the $5 million they plan to invest there will lead to 30 jobs over the next three years. 
 
But Nemec doesn't plan to stop there. 
 
"We're aggressively growing our business," he says. "We plan to grow at 30 percent per year for the next three to four years. Within five years, American Broach will grow by about 100 employees, fill both buildings completely, and hopefully triple our total sales."
 
The $5 million Nemec plans to invest includes the $1 million purchase of the new building, as well as $650,000 to be spent renovating it inside and out, including new lighting, HVAC, and a new blower system. The remainder will be dedicated to new machinery that will allow the company to double its production, as well as training new employees. 
 
"It's an expensive job to train people," says Nemec. "We have five people in the new training program right now. You have to work at half speed to show them how it works."
 
Ten of the initial 30 new employees projected have already been hired, and Nemec says the company is always looking for experienced staff. The company's growth has been aided by Ann Arbor SPARK, which has helped American Broach secure incentives from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the City of Ypsilanti. MEDC is offering the company a $13,000 incentive over 12 years, and Ypsilanti has offered them an additional six-year incentive valued at more than $236,000.
 

Source: Ken Nemec, American Broach
Writer: Natalie Burg

826michigan partners with Beezy's Cafe for evening tutoring

The consolidation of Ypsilanti-area school districts brought with it a lot of changes. Among them was the closing of the school building used by local non-profit 826michigan to bring tutoring services to students. 
 
"They made some pretty significant changes with building usage," says 826michigan Executive Director Amanda Uhle. "The feasibility of running our program in Willow Run was just working out to be difficult."
 
Finding an appropriate replacement location was no easy task, but once the idea came about to look outside of the school system for a location, they could think of no better place than Beezy's Café in downtown Ypsilanti.
 
"As an organization, we are huge fans of the restaurant," says Uhle. "They have done things with us over the years, hosting events and catering a few fundraising things for us."
 
In addition, Beezy's regular hours make it available during evening hours, rather than the after-school hours 826michigan traditionally held tutoring in Ypsilanti, which often presented a challenge with recruiting volunteers and facilitating transportation for students while their parents were typically at work. Uhle believes this will help attract more students and tutors. Additionally, she hopes the neutral location will be more inviting to students of all ages, as the former middle school location was most convenient for students of that age. 
 
Uhle estimates that about 75 students per year in Ypsilanti have participated in the tutoring program, and hopes to see that number grow with the new location at Beezy's Café. 826michigan serves even more Ypsilanti students inside schools during school hours, as well as students in Ann Arbor and Detroit. 
 

Source: Amanda Uhle, 826michigan
Writer: Natalie Burg

Chef Takashi to open Slurping Turtle in downtown Ann Arbor

Before the world knew him from appearances on such television shows as Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters, Takashi Yagihashi knew Ann Arbor. During his nine years as executive chef at Tribute in Farmington Hills, Yagihashi often visited the city on his days off. 
 
"In the summertime, I went to the art festivals and the farmers market, and I liked to eat at Zingerman's," says Yagihashi. "I feel that it's a very great, international city with a lot of students coming here from out of the country."
 
He never forgot his love of Ann Arbor, and neither did Michigan forget him. After opening his renowned Chicago restaurants, Takashi and Slurping Turtle, Michiganders would regularly visit, asking when he was coming back to the Mitten. At long last, Yagihashi is satisfying their demands by opening a second Slurping Turtle in the former Borders building downtown. 
 
"You have a very culture-oriented town. When we were starting to think about a Michigan Slurping Turtle, Ann Arbor came to my head right away," Yagihashi says. "Being across the street from the Michigan Theater, and very close to campus was the perfect location for us."
 
Yagihashi hopes the 5,296 square-foot restaurant will be open in Feb. of 2014, after completing renovations that will make the restaurant similar in style to his clean, modern, Zen-like Chicago location. The restaurant will seat about 100 diners. He expects to hire a staff of 40 to 50 employee, who will be trained both in Chicago and locally with Chicago-trained staff. 
 
The Slurping Turtle will offer Ann Arbor diners a flexible menu that Yagihashi says will be suitable for large, fine dining groups, as well as a quick bite. The menu will include both cold and hot tapas, noodles, side dishes and desserts. 

Source: Takashi Yagihashi, Slurping Turtle
Writer: Natalie Burg
 

New indie bookstore, Bookbound, to open on Plymouth Rd.

The closing of Borders changed everything for a number of Ann Arborites. Among them was Peter Blackshear, who had worked as a bargain book buyer for the national retailer for 12 years. Fortunately for he and wife Megan Blackshear, they still live in a community that loves books, and fortunately for Ann Arbor, the Blackshears are now channeling their specialized skills in the book industry into Bookbound, a new, independent bookstore. 
 
With a soft opening tentatively set for August, Bookbound will be located in the Courtyard Shops on Plymouth Rd. Blackshear says they were attracted to the small retail and dining development because it feels more like a community than most other non-downtown commercial areas. 
 
"Courtyard a really nice alternative to downtown," says Megan Blackshear. "A lot of the businesses are owner-operated. It's not a typical strip mall; it's a neighborhood."
 
Bookbound will feature new books, a generous children's section, a limited number of used books and a bargain book section that will be unique to the traditional independent bookstore model. Using Peter Blackshear's skills as contacts from his Borders days, the pair believes the bargain book section will be key to Bookbound's success.
 
"One of the big things that is causing the brick and mortar bookstores to suffer is the competition from Amazon and other low-cost retailers," says Blackshear. " By throwing the bargain books in the mix, we'll be able compete with Amazon." 
 
The 2,400 square foot space, which formerly housed B. Ella Bridal, is now under renovation. The Bookbound website should be completed in a few weeks, and a grand opening is being planned for September. 

Source: Megan Blackshear, Bookbound
Writer: Natalie Burg

Ypsilanti cosmetologist breaks into retail with beauty supply store

When Richard Smith was growing up, he knew he wanted to become either a scientist, a minister or a cosmetologist. Having worked at Rammos Deluxe Barbershop for six years now, he already achieved the latter, and now he's adding one more career to the list: entrepreneur. 
 
"I've been a cosmetologist for a long time, and I wanted to try something new," says Smith, who opened VIP Beauty Supply on N. Washington in Ypsilanti earlier this month. "Rather than open a business I had no knowledge of, I decided beauty supplies would be a good idea."
 
Smith didn't have to look far to find the right location for his store. VIP Beauty Supply is located just a couple of doors down from Rammos, where he is still employed as he works to get VIP Beauty up and running. He says downtown Ypsilanti was the perfect place to open as other area beauty supply stores aren't as accessible for near downtown residents.
 
The space was under renovation for about six months before opening. Smith took a hands-on approach to the store's development, doing much of the grunt work himself. Though he's not ready to add carpenter to his list of careers, he's not giving up on any of his original aspirations. 
 
"I had to pick one, but I'm still thinking I'll do all three," he says. 
 
VIP Beauty Supply offers a variety of hair and nail products, as well as tools, such as clippers and flatirons. The store currently employs a staff of two and can be found under VIPBeautySupply on both Twitter and Instagram. 

Source: Richard Smith, VIP Beauty Supply
Writer: Natalie Burg

Indoor gardening retailer opens on Jackson Rd.

A Michigan-based indoor gardening supplies retailer has opened its seventh location on Jackson Rd. With existing locations in Grand Rapids, Traverse City and the Detroit area, the Cultivation Station expanded into the gardening-friendly Ann Arbor area, bringing with it unique retail items, as well as a wealth of indoor gardening knowledge. 
 
"We're here to help anyone grow anything," says Cultivation Station Manager Ray Laurent. "My plan is to establish us as not only a resource for products, but also an educational resource. We're here to help."
 
The approximately 1,000 square foot storefront just west of I-94 opened in April. Laurent says local indoor gardeners will benefit from some of the items they carry that are unavailable elsewhere. He hopes the store will educate gardeners of all types about the number of options made available through indoor options, including hydroponics, aquaponics and organic gardening. 
 
"One of our main goals is to increase the awareness of the industry as a whole," says Laurent. "In Michigan our growing season is a little short. This is an option to extend your growing in a greenhouse or by setting up a few lights in your house. It's very exciting."

Source: Ray Laurent, Cultivation Station
Writer: Natalie Burg
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